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Expectations are that Joel Embiid will play for Sixers in play-in game

CAMDEN, N.J. — Mystery always seems to follow Sixers star Joel Embiid, whose status for the play-in game Wednesday against the Miami Heat is anything but etched in stone.

Embiid’s comeback from an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee almost three months ago was moving along well until he tweaked the knee in back-to-back games, gutting out the second one after falling awkwardly on it in a victory over the Orlando Magic last Friday.

The big guy practiced Saturday, according to coach Nick Nurse, but was scratched for the regular season finale Sunday under the heading “left knee injury recovery.” The Sixers didn’t need him then as they hammered the Brooklyn Nets, 107-86.

With Embiid, the Sixers are a major threat. They were 5-0 since his return, the reigning league MVP averaging 30.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and 5.2 assists over that span. Even Nurse wondered if Embiid would be available for the Nets game, explaining immediately after the game that there could be issues. There were.

Which brings us to Monday. Embiid practiced according to Nurse, who thinks the center will be available for the Heat (7 p.m., ESPN) in the 7/8 play-in at Wells Fargo Center.

“I do expect that,” Nurse said.

Sure of it?

“I’m not sure on anybody,” he said. “But I’m hopeful.”

Touche. When Embiid is coming back from surgery, you just don’t know. Guard De’Anthony Melton won’t play, as he had a setback in attempting to return from a back injury.

Sixers practices are closed to the media. When Nurse was asked how Embiid looked at practice Monday his response sizzled while at the same time being vague.

“He was good,” Nurse said. “He was in good spirits. He was highly engaged. A lot of the things we were doing were game plans and he was locked in.”

Swingman Kelly Oubre was slightly more eloquent categorizing how Embiid was at practice.

“He made shots,” Oubre said. “He looked normal. He looked like himself, you know? You can definitely tell the seriousness in his face and in his work ethic and everything that he’s doing, the way he’s carrying himself. He wants to win. So, it was good to see him moving and doing his thing.”

The Sixers have every reason to want to beat the Heat, who opened as 4-point underdogs. The winner hits the road to take on the New York Knicks in a first-round best-of-7 series starting Saturday. The loser opposes the Chicago-Orlando 8/9 play-in survivor. The winner of that losers’ bracket game begins a first-round series with the top-seeded Boston Celtics Sunday in Beantown.

The Heat defeated the Sixers twice this season when Embiid was sidelined. The Sixers in March defeated the Heat, 98-91, without Embiid.

The Heat, you may recall, survived the play-in round to advance all the way to the NBA championship series last season. The Denver Nuggets won the title in five games.

The Sixers haven’t made it out of the second round of the playoffs the past five seasons. Embiid began playing regularly in 2017-18. At this point even a semi-healthy Embiid operating in Nurse’s schemes with a lineup of scorers like Tyrese Maxey, Tobias Harris and Oubre would be interesting to observe.

“With Joel out there, we can all read off of him and kind of find our spots off of him, because he creates so much attention on the court,” Oubre said. “Now, I think we’ve been really figuring out our spots when he’s in his iso position. I think we’re in a better space than we were before he went out because now we know exactly the reads, and where he wants us to be, and where we can get our shots and stuff like that. I think we’re real polished in that aspect, so we’ll see in the game.”

The Heat has advanced to the Eastern Conference finals in three of the past four seasons under coach Eric Spoelstra. Stars Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro are healthy after missing chunks of the season.

The offense runs through Butler, and the Sixers spent a lot of time working on defense Monday, per Nurse.

“You’ve got to have a lot of different matchups ready to go on him personnel wise,” Nurse said. “And then you’ve got to have a bunch of schemes all ready to go and see which ones you need to use.”

Source: Berkshire mont

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